White House denies Iraq link to terror escalation

Don’t you just love it when the government contradicts itself? The White House responds to the National Intelligence Estimate report finding the Iraq war is fueling global terrorism. From the LA Times, Sept. 25:

White House: Terrorism not linked to invasion
WASHINGTON – The White House yesterday sharply disagreed with a new U.S. intelligence assessment that the war in Iraq is encouraging global terrorism, as Bush administration officials stressed that anti-American fervor in the Muslim world began long before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Peter Watkins, a White House spokesman, declined to talk specifically about the National Intelligence Estimate, a classified analysis that represents a consensus perspective of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies…

But the White House view, according to Watkins, is that much of the radical fundamentalists’ deep anger with the United States and Israel goes back generations and cannot be linked to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“Their hatred for freedom and liberty did not develop overnight,” Watkins said. “Those seeds were planted decades ago.” He said the administration has sought in Iraq to root out hotbeds of terrorism before they grow. “Instead of waiting while they plot and plan attacks to kill innocent Americans, the United States has taken the initiative to fight back,” Watkins said.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also have highlighted the war in Iraq as the main thrust in the fight against terrorism, contending that the world is safer overall without Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a likely presidential candidate in 2008, agreed with the White House view that radicalism predates the toppling of Saddam, and that fundamentalists are always looking for reasons to recruit new jihadists.

“If it wasn’t Iraq, it’d be Afghanistan,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” McCain also cautioned that the longer the war continues “the more likely they are to have more recruits.”

What pathetically transparent myopia. As we recently had to scold the equally dishonest (or self-deluded) Irshad Manji:

There were “foreign policy grievances” galore in September 2001. The two al-Qaeda communiques in the immediate aftermath of the attacks (Oct. 7, 2001, Oct. 9, 2001) both invoked the US troop presence in Saudi Arabia, the Iraq sanctions and Washington’s support of Israel. Just because the US has made the situation much worse in the intervening years doesn’t mean that there were no “foreign policy grievances” behind 9-11! And however criminal al-Qaeda’s tactics and however totalitarian its ideology, these grievances are legitimate—a reality we ignore to our own peril.

See our last posts on Iraq, al-Qaeda, and the politics of the GWOT.

  1. Judge for yourself
    The White House has declassified four pages of the 30-page National Intelligence Estimate report, in an effort to head off the controversy. They say it does not say what their detractors say it says. Here is the text from the four pages in question. Judge for yourself. From the LA Times, Sept. 27, emphasis added:

    United States-led counter-terrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of Al Qaeda and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that Al Qaeda will continue to pose the greatest threat to the homeland and U.S. interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement, which includes Al Qaeda, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells, is spreading and adapting to counter-terrorism efforts.

    • Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

    • If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.

    • Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim-majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on Al Qaeda, could erode support for the jihadists.

    We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.

    • We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the homeland.

    • The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.

    We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

    • The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

    We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this estimate.

    • Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: 1. Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation and a sense of powerlessness; 2. the Iraq jihad; 3. the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and 4. pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims, all of which jihadists exploit.

    Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists’ radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.

    • The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution — an ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia-based governance spanning the Muslim world — is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.

    • Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

    • Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

    If democratic reform efforts in Muslim-majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.

    Al Qaeda, now merged with Abu Musab Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.

    • The loss of key leaders, particularly Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements. We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to U.S. interests than does Al Qaeda.

    • Should Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.

    • The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of Al Qaeda in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations.

    Other affiliated Sunni-extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al Sunna and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.

    • We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the homeland than does Al Qaeda but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to U.S. interests abroad. The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.

    We judge that most jihadist groups — both well-known and newly formed — will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.

    • (Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons) capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups.

    While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.

    Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack U.S. interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet Age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.

    • We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support.

    It is especially disingenuous for the Administration’s defenders to argue that the “Iraq jihad” is only one of four factors identified by the report, as factors 1 and 4 (“entrenched grievances” and “anti-US sentiment”) are initimately related to and in large part dependent on factor 2 (the “Iraq jihad”). The US presence in Iraq is one of the chief “entrenched grievances” which fuel “anti-US sentiment.” This distinction is what is known as a Procrustean separation, after the Greek mythical figure Procrustes, who chopped or stretched human bodies to make them fit in his bed the way Bush chops and stretches facts to make them fit his arguments.